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Ponting and Clarke roll back the years


Jamie Alter,Cricketnext.com
Jan 24, 2012 at 01:33pm IST

Subtract the date and all that has happened with Australia in the last two years and this was straight out of the mid-200s. Sunny Adelaide, the fourth Test of a one-way series, Australia win the toss and finish the day with more than 300 on the board for the loss of just three wickets, with Ricky Ponting unbeaten on a century. Simple.

Except it wasn't, even considering India's woeful form on tour. Before the series Australia had been expected to compete, perhaps even bully, but not thrash India. Before the series Ponting had gone almost two years – 33 innings - without a Test century. He looked a fading hero, his fluency having almost deserted him. He was clearly struggling against quality pace and the short ball. At 37, he appeared a spent force. Before the series Clarke's ability to inspire Australia had also been questioned, after series draws against South Africa and New Zealand (both of which included embarrassing defeats). His batting form was fine, but he needed results.

Then came the Boxing Day Test, and two match-winning half-centuries from Ponting. A much-awaited 40th century followed in Sydney, an innings of immense determination. With that, Ponting had gained a lifeline as a Test cricketer. In the same match Clarke stormed to an unbeaten 329, almost doubling his previous best of 168, and his leadership was excellent. Former and current captain had ensured Australia a 2-0 lead. It was stirring stuff from two outrageously skilled batsmen at different phases of their career.

Ponting and Clarke roll back the years

On a lovely batting track in Adelaide, Ponting produced a fine century in the company of his captain, Clarke.

And now, in the final match of the series, Ponting has played his most fluent innings since December 2008 against South Africa, when he scored 101 and 99 in a match that Australia famously lost, and one that confirmed the team's decline. Beside him, Clarke tucked into India's bowling like a famished runner at a buffet. He was authoritative, effortless and all twinkled-toed brilliance. The result was an unbroken 251-run stand that once again took Australia out of early trouble to an almost impregnable position. This pair has been instrumental in Australia's dominance.

When he was at his best, what stood out about Ponting was his movement. They were always so decisive, be it the forward lunge or the early backlift or the spanking pull. When he middled the ball it was deafening to opposing teams. This innings was a throwback to prettier times.

Walking in at 34 for 2, Ponting was away with a cut for three and followed up with the straightest of straight drives for four. There were a couple nervy pokes but then, with an authoritative pull for four and a fabulous square drive for the same result Ponting was in second gear. R Ashwin was swept with power, Virender Sehwag driven past midwicket with panache. Soon Ponting had fifty off 69 balls. His juices were flowing.

You could see he was itching to dominate. He went for his square-drives, he looked to hit down the ground, but he resisted the hook shot. The feet, the head, the eyes, all worked in tandem to produce a skillful innings as Ponting became just the third man to surpass 13,000 career runs in Test cricket. He has played better innings but, against the backdrop of the past two years, few will have been as satisfying.

At Sydney, Ponting spat dirt as he smiled after reaching three figures. There was no roar or anger. Just a boyish smile. In Adelaide, after he guided the ball backward of point to reach his century, Ponting let out a triumphant cry with two pumped fists. The way he punctuated his effort was telling. Sydney was about relief; Adelaide was about making a point. With two centuries in the series, Ponting has underlined his value to Australia.

Ponting was not alone in tormenting India. Matching him shot for shot was Clarke, the man who took over the captaincy from Ponting. Like his predecessor, Clarke is building a cricket team in his own image. He has taken to the captaincy with ease – he had, after all, been tipped as a future captain early in his career – and the personal results are mighty impressive: 1105 runs with five centuries at an average of 65.

Entering with Australia 84 for 3, Clarke quickly took a liking to Ashwin who by the end of the day had conceded 45 runs from 50 balls bowled to the Australian captain. His third ball was slapped past mid-off for four, and later in the afternoon Clarke rocked back to pull and then used his feet to drive over mid-on in two deliveries. A controlled loft over mid-on off Ashwin brought Clarke his fifty, and he celebrated by hammering three fours in one Ashwin over. It was a tactical move to go after Ashwin and paid rich dividends.

Questionable bowling plans, defensive fields and a general lack of aggression all played into the hands of Ponting and Clarke but there was no denying the class which the pair displayed. Clarke has spoken of how Australia are thinking of what lies ahead, and the runs from him and Ponting may well set them on the path to dominance again.

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